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Swansea University helps Bili the chimp

Bili is around 33 years old. Credit: Swansea University

Researchers from Swansea Universities have stepped in to help a chimpanzee from a local sanctuary, who was suffering from a swollen jaw, after his keepers highlighted his plight.

Clinical imaging staff at the College of Medicine learned from Jan and Graham Garen, the owners of Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary in Abercrave, that Bili, an ex-circus Chimpanzee has been suffering with a swollen jaw for several months and was in need of a diagnosis.

Bili came to Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary in September 2011 and keepers say he's a calm and friendly chimp that settled quickly with other chimpanzees but is more sociable with people.

The veterinary surgeons that were caring for Bili had carried out various tests but lab reports showed nothing conclusive. A closer look was needed and so his keepers approached Swansea University for help.

Using specialist imaging equipment, the team identified Bili’s problem was due to a thickening of his jaw and overlying swelling of his facial muscles. This is likely to be from an abscess of his wisdom tooth.

Following the radiological diagnosis, Bili’s veterinary surgeons and keepers can treat the infection with long term antibiotics to try to initiate a healing process. Albeit it seems Bili is not keen on taking tablets despite the keepers’ best attempts to disguise tablets in various foods.

‘It was a unique humanitarian opportunity for our staff who were delighted to have helped Bili and we hope that he gets better and can enjoy the rest of his retirement in comfort at the sanctuary.’

– Dr Rhodri M Evans, College of Medicine

We are very grateful to the staff at Swansea University for their expertise and their compassion in unhesitatingly offering help to Bili. Thank goodness there is a facility locally in Wales that could help Bili.’

– Graham Garen Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary


Long term shift work 'linked to impaired brain power'

Researchers studied more than 3000 shift workers. Credit: Julian Stratenschulte/DPA/PA Images

Long term shift work could be linked to impaired brain power, according to a study carried out by scientists from Swansea University and other European Universities.

They say shift work, like chronic jet lag, is known to disrupt the body’s internal clock and it has been linked to a range of health problems, like ulcers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and some cancers.

But little is known about its potential impact on brain functions, like memory and processing speed.

The study published in ‘Occupational & Environmental Medicine’ suggests the impact seems to be most noticeable over a period of 10 or more years, and although the effects can be reversed, this may take at least five years.

“The study shows the long term effects of shift work on the body clock are not only harmful to workers’ physical health, but also affect their mental abilities. Such cognitive impairments may have consequences for the safety of shift workers and the society that they serve, as well as for shift workers’ quality of life.”

– Dr Philip Tucker, Professor of Psychology, Swansea University

Welsh glaciologists to study huge Antarctic lakes

Scientists will drill deep into the ice shelf. Credit: Prifysgol Aberystwyth University

Glaciologists from Aberystwyth University will fly to Antarctica at the beginning of November to study large lakes forming on the surface of ice shelves.

Professor Bryn Hubbard and Dr David Ashmore from the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences’ Centre for Glaciology will be working with collaborators from Swansea University on the Larsen C ice shelf.

Larsen C covers an area two and a half times the size of Wales

It's a long, fringing ice shelf in the northwest part of the Weddell Sea, extending along the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Professor Hubbard and Dr Ashmore will be using hot water to drill up to 150m down into the 200m deep ice shelf to study the many layers of ice that make up Larsen C.

The ice shelf is significant for scientists trying to understand the effects of climate change on Antarctica.

Two other ice shelves in the area, Larsen A and B, have broken up and disappeared since 1995 and scientists have been trying to understand why.

“Despite its accessibility, this region of Antarctica is surprisingly poorly known on the ground. Dark patches on satellite images appear each summer and these are interpreted as large surface melt ponds, but no one has actually studied them on the ground; to date we don’t even have a photograph of the lakes we believe we will see on Larsen C.

– Professor Bryn Hubbard Aberystwyth University

Brecon Beacons flights reveal eagle's 'secret weapon'

Steppe eagles have a wingspan of around 2m. Credit: Heiko Wolfraum/DPA/PA Images

An eagle fitted with its own "black box" flight recorder, flying over the Brecon Beacons, has revealed the soaring bird's secret weapon against turbulence.

By rapidly collapsing its wings when encountering strong gusts of wind, the captive steppe eagle named Cossack was able to stay aloft in conditions that would have grounded fixed-wing aircraft.

Scientists believe other soarers including different eagle species, vultures and kites are likely to employ the same technique.

Cossack was sent on 45 experimental flights wearing a miniature rucksack packed with scientific instruments.

The 75g "black box", which did not interfere with flying, both tracked his position with GPS and recorded measurements of acceleration, rotation rate and airspeed.

Soaring flight may appear effortless but it isn't a free ride. Soaring may enable a bird to travel long distances but it also puts an enormous strain on its flight muscles.

The nature of rising air masses, such as thermals, is that they create lots of turbulence and buffeting that jolts a bird's wings and could knock it out of the sky.

Our evidence suggests that wing-tucking is a direct response to a substantial loss of lift that occurs when a bird flies through a pocket of atmospheric turbulence.

– Prof. Graham Taylor Oxford University

The research is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Rare fungus found

The Fen Puffball was discovered in Powys. Credit: Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales says it's uncovered a type of rare fungus previously unknown in Wales during a survey of 200 of the country’s most important bog and fen sites.

The detailed surveys of peatlands in Wales often reveal rare and unusual species and it was during one of these the team found the Fen Puffball (or Bovista paludosa).

The National Peatland Survey has been looking at the benefits of good quality peatlands to people, the economy and wildlife.

Peatland is an important habitat for nature, stores millions of gallons of water to help reduce flooding and stores carbon which helps to combat climate change.

Finding this puffball in Mynydd Epynt in Powys was an added bonus as it's the first time this fungus has been found in Wales, it is extremely rare and only five examples have ever been recorded in the UK.

Such is its rarity that that the Fen Puffball is named on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) list as a UK priority conservation species


Researchers launch buoy to measure wave energy

The buoy is loaded on to Swansea University’s research vessel. Credit: Swansea University

Swansea scientists have launched a research buoy to measure the strength of waves four miles off St Govans Head in Pembrokeshire.

The Directional Waverider buoy will measure wave height and direction in an initial year-long project to work out how much energy is stored in the waves off Wales.

The buoy is launched into the sea off St Govans Head. Credit: Swansea University

Data collected will be used to inform decisions about whether it is feasible to convert this energy into renewable electrical power, via off-shore arrays.

Throughout the project duration, the public can also view the live buoy data online, through the Cefas WaveNet website.

“The marine energy industry in Wales is really starting to take off. This research buoy will allow us to refine our oceanographic models of the area, to inform where the best sites are that can be used by technology to harness our wave energy resource.

“This work will also further contribute to The Crown Estate’s recently designated South Pembrokeshire Demonstration zone, as the primary deployment site in Wales for wave energy converters.”

– Dr Ian Masters Principal investigator

Swansea scientists develop new sensor

Graphene sensors are 'five times more sensitive'. Credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/PA Images

A team of researchers from Swansea University, using the University’s Centre for NanoHealth, say they have developed a highly sensitive graphene biosensor with the capability to detect molecules which show signs of increased cancer risk.

They say the newly developed graphene biosensor could ultimately help to provide a rapid diagnosis at the point of care.

In comparison with other bioassay tests, the sensor was over five times more sensitive.

Conventionally, graphene is produced by stripping layers from graphite.

However for a biosensor, a large substrate area is required in order to produce patterned graphene devices.

The researchers used conditions of low pressure and very high temperatures in order to grow graphene on a substrate of silicon carbide.

The graphene devices were then patterned by using methods similar to those used when processing semiconductors.

The team then attached antibody bioreceptor molecules that could bind to specific target molecules in urine, saliva or blood.

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